Mark Blundell enjoyed a positive outing this weekend at Croft as his maiden British Touring Car Championship campaign continued. Marking his first-ever appearance at the North Yorkshire track, the 53-year-old bounced back from a frustrating weekend last time out at Thruxton to show strong signs of progress on track as he made his way up the order, delivering three full race distances and a weekend high result of P19.
Heading into the weekend in a determined mood after a four-week break, Blundell was looking to quickly get to grips with a new circuit and make further progress in his HP and Intel-sponsored Audi S3. Saturday’s first practice session hinted at positive signs to come with a 1:23.940 enough to record a P27 finish.
A few slight setup changes and familiarising himself with the Croft Circuit allowed the Trade Price Cars Racing driver to make further progress in FP2. Gaining seven tenths from the morning session, Blundell recorded a 1:23.210 to place him in P24 and entrench himself firmly in the battle for the top-twenty positions.
As qualifying rolled around, Blundell was desperate to record his first clean qualifying session with incidents impacting his ability to record a flying-lap in each of the first three rounds of the season. Unfortunately for the 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, this weekend’s qualifying session proved to be the most disruptive yet. A total of five red flags ensured those who had managed to post flying lap times early in the session benefitted fortuitously. Unfortunately for Blundell, he was not one of those. During the fifth and final red flag period, the heavens opened and rain
poured down onto the 2.1-mile circuit.
In the face of challenging track conditions and an enforced early conclusion to the qualifying session, Blundell was unable to record a reflective qualifying lap and had to settle for a P27 starting position for Sunday’s opening race.
As Sunday dawned, competitors were greeted with the same changeable weather conditions with glorious sunshine interspersed with periods of rain. After the misfortune of Thruxton, Blundell was seeking an incident-free start to the weekend which is what he enjoyed. Taking the optional harder tyre for the weekend’s opening race, Mark showed improved pace throughout as he made his way through the order to a P21 finish.
With his confidence growing and pace improving, the blue and white #8 Audi S3 lined up in P21 for the day’s second showpiece event. Setting out to make his way into the midfield battle, Blundell’s hopes were distinguished on the very first lap of the race as he was bumped off and fell to the back of the order. In a race of his own with clean air in front and behind him, the 53-year-old continued to display his improving race pace, keeping his nose out of trouble and ultimately claiming a P26 finish.
After another torrential downpour, race three saw all drivers faced with the unenviable task of making the correct tyre choice. On a wet track but with the sun beaming down, Blundell and his #8 Trade Price Cars Racing team opted for the wet tyre - a decision that proved to be the correct one. Forced with the task of making his way through the order once more, the former Formula 1 star gained eight places in the opening lap alone to make his way up into P18.
Enjoying the benefit of being on wets in the first few laps of the races, the tables soon turned as the track dried in the late afternoon sunshine. Battling hard with the likes of Tom Ingram and Aidan Moffat across the last few laps, Blundell continued to record progressive lap times as he
reached the conclusion of the weekend, crossing the line in P19.
Reflecting on a positive weekend, Blundell was pleased with the progress shown and is looking
forward to continuing this at Oulton Park in a fortnight’s time.
“The team and I have made some good strides forward this weekend. We all left Thruxton feeling a little battered and bruised but there’s been a huge amount of work that has been put in to make the progress that we all want to. I’m delighted for everyone that we are starting to see the benefits of that. We are not there yet, we still have a way to go to get to where we want to be, but we are showing the right signs.
“Croft was a new experience for me but it’s a great circuit and one which we have all enjoyed. There have been a lot of factors for all the drivers to deal with this weekend with interrupted sessions and the changeable weather conditions. For me, it’s all valuable experience which can only help as we head to Oulton Park.”
It is a quick turnaround for round five of the season, as Blundell and the Trade Price Cars Racing team head back up north to Oulton Park on the 29th and 30th of June.